Strange state of affairs

For some reason England are adept at breaking up winning teams and now, 10 years on, they are witnessing the final demolition of the side of 10 years ago which provided some of the brightest cricket and most gutsy performances of this century, writes Ted Corbett.

It struck me in the middle of the long wakeful night recently that I knew why the England and Wales Cricket Board had to sack Kevin Pietersen and are clearly unwilling to let him back into the dressing room to the disgust of many fans.

I have worked it out that his absence from the England team comes simply because the Board are concerned that he may undermine the captain Alastair Cook as, I guess, they feel he tried to undermine Andrew Strauss three years ago. Hence the texts to his pals in the South African dressing room and the rows that followed.

I imagine that he has promised he will not try the same game with Cook; but Strauss has countered that with talk of a lack of trust. It also explains why any number of international players have come forward to speak well of KP and to emphasise that he has never caused them any problems.

Well, if my guesswork is correct, it signifies a strange state of affairs in the England dressing room, especially as there have been a whole bunch of coaches, managers and men of discipline who ought to have been in charge of such matters and who have outnumbered the players at times.

In normal circumstances, if KP had been dropped, he would walk straight back into the team to replace either Ian Bell or Gary Ballance for the Ashes series. Both have been in and out of true form since the World Cup.

There is no sign of KP’s return, Cook can rest easily in his bed at night and England’s chance of winning the Ashes is as unlikely as a sighting of Atlantis.

For some reason England are adept at breaking up winning teams and now, 10 years on, they are witnessing the final demolition of the side of 10 years ago which provided some of the brightest cricket and most gutsy performances of this century.

The latest casualty is Matt Prior, stalwart wicket-keeper and attacking batsman since 2007, who has been forced to retire because the doctors cannot find a cure for his Achilles tendon injury. Of course that injury is a ’keeper’s nightmare as he spends his whole day crouching and straightening and putting enormous pressure on his heel.

England have, happily, found in Jos Buttler, an ideal substitute. He may turn out to be an even greater ’keeper and more successful attacker than Prior.

Prior made too many mistakes — if you compare him with Godfrey Evans, Bob Taylor or Alan Knott — and was an inconsistent batsman but he had a stroke through the covers for every ball in any bowler’s repertoire and his two-hour hundred at Lord’s against West Indies in a heroic debut might have kept many a ’keeper in the side for life.

It was one of the best examples of clean hitting, superb stroke play at the right moment, I can remember in 35 years watching England at close quarters and I am sorry that Prior will no longer play for either Sussex or England.

English fans should line the route to the airport when New Zealand fly home as a gesture of thanks for the innovative and clever way they played. They produced one brilliant batting display after another and England followed suit. It may even make England a team to watch in the future.

I was disappointed to hear the temporary England coach Paul Farbrace say, “We don’t normally play that way but we were forced to by their batting.” I just wish that sometime recently England had had the initiative to go after the bowling as every other one-day international side has done recently.

At least England can claim to have, in Joe Root, one of the great young players of the era alongside Steve Smith of Australia and Kane Williamson the Kiwi. All three have claims to consistent run scoring, elegant strokes and the ability to smile when they get things wrong.

Like all great players Root has a rod of steel where the rest of us have spines. He smiles but it is the smile of a tiger. Williamson appears to be indifferent to the way the game is shaping and simply goes about putting the score right; Smith is a typical hard Australian cricketer with the ability to match any of their star players from the past. My suspicion is that Smith will be the outstanding batsman of that trio.

Leaving the individuals to one side... what a remarkable change has come over the one-day game. Perhaps all this outstanding strokeplay began in T20; if so all the uncharitable and snide remarks about the 20-over game will show the critics how ill was their judgement.

A few years ago it was common to hear the remark that if a side reached 250 “they are very competitive.” No longer. If a batting side reach 350 today there is a near certainty that the chasing side will win.

Is all this change good for the game? That remains to be seen but it is refreshing, it will keep the spectators coming and it will provide viewers with plenty of exciting cricket.

I wonder what batsmen like Mike Brearley, Geoff Boycott and Sunil Gavaskar think of their own performances when they see 400 to 450 come up on the scoreboard and, almost as much to the point, what is the limit now that all inhibitions about high scores have been cast aside.