A bit of the new & a bit of the old

Where is English cricket heading? "Nowhere," as this article points out.

Cricket is now in the world of technology, computers etc., but unfortunately has forgotten the fundamentals that will let us use this new scientific thinking. For instance, it is all very well to know a batsman's weaknesses, but it will only work if the bowler has the basic skills to exploit these weaknesses.

There is nothing magical in this knowledge and any bowler or captain has had this information since our game evolved. The only difference these days is that it is recorded in a computer.

It is also pretty useless to know how bowlers would bowl to each batsman if the batsman hasn't the basic knowledge to put into place the best method to thwart the bowlers' plans.

This has never been more cruelly exposed than by the English batting in both the Tests and the ODIs. The English batsmen faltered in the simple but vital fundamentals of batting, which is to judge the length of the ball and then put into action the right footwork and technique to handle the length.

England's batsmen this summer performed very badly in this area as they pushed forward too often to balls that they should have played off the back foot and then often played back to balls crying out to be driven off the front foot.

Their batting in the second innings of the fourth Test was a perfect case study of this. The first six batsmen were out lunging on to the front foot to deliveries far too short for that stroke.

Two were Lbw as the ball came in off the seam. Two were bowled for the same reason. One was caught by the wicketkeeper and one caught and bowled to a ball too short for the shot. If this was a rare example of fundamental mistakes I wouldn't have been concerned, but it has happened consistently all season in both the Tests and the ODIs.

England had to beat New Zealand in the recent Perth ODI to play in the finals. England bowled first and delivered 22 wides and three no balls. In all they allowed New Zealand over four overs extra. Little wonder New Zealand won and England's disastrous performance once again showed that their basics in all forms of the game needed urgent attention.

I have seen the players make elementary mistakes when coaching, but I would have hoped for a better showing from the cream of the English crop. All this has left me wondering and worried. As to just what is happening at the `Centres of Excellence'. This is English for `Cricket Academies'.

While I am certain all of these centres have some excellent up to date and sophisticated technology with reams of information and "experts" in attendance, if what I have seen this season is anything to go by these centres should be put under close examination to find out what is going on.

I have been intrigued by the panel (Group of Experts) put together by the ECB to look at what went wrong on the Australian tour. The panel comprises Ken Schofield, a former Executive Director of the European Tour for 30 years, plus five ex-cricketers, Nasser Hussain, Nick Knight, Angus Fraser, Hugh Morris and Mickey Stewart.

It is interesting to note that Mike Atherton, Ian Botham and Bob Willis, the most vocal critics of England's poor performances, are not on the panel.

From the outside it seems to me that there are too many insiders on the panel, who may have a vested interest on the panel's findings. For instance, Hugh Morris has been in change of the ECB's coaching programmes for many years.

Hussain was a recent captain of England. The standard of English cricket was dropping when he and Duncan Fletcher were in charge.

Fraser was a former Middlessex and English medium pacer and now a journalist, and to my knowledge has had little coaching credentials.

Nick Knight has been brought up in the current system and would have little knowledge of other methods. He is a long serving captain of Warwickshire and a fine batsman. When I was consultant coach to the Netherlands' national team, they were invited to attend a coaching programme when Bob Woolmer was the coach of Warwickshire.

All they seemed to have learned, they said, was how to sweep, reverse sweep, slog sweep and noodle sweep to fine leg.

This was crazy, for most of them were still absorbing the fundamentals and the type of shots they were taught were beyond their talents and beyond the skills of most cricketing nations.

Their time there was virtually wasted and they would have been better served by the coaches helping them to score more runs and take more wickets.

After all aren't these two the most vital ingredients to winning matches from the schools to the Test level? Unfortunately, there are few, if any, coaches, coaching manuals or academies concentrating on this.

The last member on the panel is my old mate Mickey Stewart. He has had his ups and downs as both a player and a coach and has vast experience at all levels. He knows how the old system worked and is up to date on modern technology.

England have invested heavily in the new sciences to boost their skills. It reminds me very much of the period in Australia when greater physical conditioning was touted as the miracle way to improve all cricketers.

The great Australian batsman Norm O'Neill summed up his thoughts on "All the eggs in one basket theory". As he watched an opening batsman carry his fellow opener up a steep hill behind the nets at the Sydney Cricket Ground No. 2, he turned to me and said, "Do you think this exercise would help the batsmen to score more runs?"

Of course it wouldn't, but extra fitness would if done in a proper and interesting way.

There is a place in cricket for modern technology as there is for good old-fashioned technique.

The trick is to recognise the good points of both and incorporate them to the best advantage of the players and the team and not blindly accept new ideas as gospel.