The ills of English cricket

Published : Jul 21, 2001 00:00 IST

AUSTRALIA'S first Test victory has quickly exposed the ills of English cricket. While injuries to batsmen made selection for the first Test difficult, I don't think that their presence would have made much difference.

Since 1989 when Terry Alderman and the other Australian new ball bowlers followed tactics brilliantly by keeping the ball up and making the batsmen play at as many balls as possible, the English batsmen have struggled to get runs.

The reason for this is that there are too many easy pickings in county cricket and batsmen can expect a four ball, just about every over. As a result, when English batsmen are robbed of these easy pickings they eventually play a loose shot and get out as they seek boundaries.

Between fours they lack mental aggression and don't hustle the bowlers in seeking singles or testing the fielders with aggressive running between wickets. And there is always a theory!

The latest being to try and let as many balls as possible go through to the 'keeper without offering a shot. It has almost become an art form as they passively leave the ball go through to the 'keeper.

Leaving the right ball has to be part and parcel of every high order batsman's technique, but it should be a spontaneous thought played only after the batsman has considered a shot and rejected it as too risky.

Unfortunately passive, planned leaving of the ball, as the English batsmen are doing, places negative thoughts in the batsman's mind and it is then virtually impossible to turn this negative attitude into a positive safe shot.

I have never seen so many batsmen dismissed without offering a shot as in English cricket today. Nasser Hussain's dismissal in the first Test at Edgbaston was a prime example. Obviously, he was attempting to "leave" as many balls as possible and his negative attitude invariably led to him pre-empting where the ball was going. He was finally out lbw not offering a shot to a ball which was well up and would have hit middle stump.

The Australian bowlers are past masters of applying pressure through simple line and length. They are also good enough to maximise any assistance in the pitch, by assuring they continually hit the right spot to both test the patience of the batsmen and expose any vulnerable fault they may have.

And at Edgbaston they had a pitch that was helpful to the bowlers with irregular bounce for the quick men and spin from day one for Shane Warne.

England, of course, had the same pitch to bowl on, but their bowlers faltered under the onslaught of the Australian batsmen and delivered too many four balls and not enough in the right spot.

When they did get it right the Aussie batsmen picked them off for singles and rotated the strike so that the English bowlers were never able to put the right amount of pressure on the batsmen that would force them into error.

Why was this? Well the answer could well lie in the new central contract system and the modern syndrome of excessive rest to keep the team mentally alert.

On paper it sounds a good theory, but in reality it denies most players of the centre wicket practice they so badly need. As it stands at present, none of the English players will play for their county, apart from the odd one-day match until the end of the season, irrespective of whether they are in or out of form.

On the Australian side they do have matches between all of the Tests in which they will be able to rest the in form players if necessary and keep playing those who need match practice.

There was no doubt in the first Test that the English quicks were below top form and needed match practice to make them sharp. I don't think they would have bowled England to victory, but on the favourable surface they should have been able to restrict Australia to 350 or 400 runs. Edgbaston was certainly not a 500-plus pitch.

The other aspect of the game where England performed badly was fielding. Poor catching cost them the second and final Test and a badly needed series win against Pakistan and the same thing happened against Australia at Edgbaston.

Catches do win matches and if England are to be competitive in this Ashes series they must hold on to as many opportunities as possible. Of all the aspects and skills of cricket, catching is the one area that can be improved the quickest.

While personal techniques and some not according to the books can be invaluable and fruitful when batting or bowling, a perfect technique is required to catch safely.

Mark Waugh is the stand out classic genius who stands undisputed as the best and safest catcher in a very good fielding team. For a big man he is a quick, smooth mover and invariably gets both the hands on the ball.

In fact, as I write I can't remember the last catch he took or even attempted one hand. He has marvellous soft hands, is very patient in letting the ball come to him and seldom, if ever, moves his hands to the ball.

Little wonder then that he misses so few catches. England could well be advised to videotape his technique and methods and try to copy them to achieve safe and sure catching.

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