WHEN I wrote an article last week headlined “England cricket’s shame and hypocrisy,” I never believed things could get even worse within a matter of days. But they did – much worse.
Rain saved England from losing the First Test at Lord’s, but there was no divine intervention to save them from a humbling Test and series defeat at Edgbaston. In perfect conditions. England’s batsmen crumbled to 122 all out in the second innings, losing at home to New Zealand, or to anyone, for the first time in decades.
Captain Joe Root admitted that his side had been beaten at batting, bowling and fielding, which is a terrible admission to make ahead of a stern five-day series this summer against India and the winter Ashes tour to Australia.
I am still puzzled by the James Bracey mystery. Why did England play their fourth choice wicket-keeper? Ostensibly it was because Ben Fowkes, who had been chosen, got a freak injury by sliding on a sock.
But where were the first and third choice wicket-keepers, Jos Buttler and Johnny Bairstow? Buttler was said to be “resting” after playing in the covid-abandoned Indian Super League, but his rest still allowed him to play T20 cricket for Lancashire while the New Zealand match was on.
Why couldn’t he have been summoned, or Bairstow for that matter, in an obvious national emergency. Bracey, although he has been travelling in the England Test “bubble,” has played only 16 championship matches and his form with the gloves showed it. He was also an embarrassment with the bat, despite his stated ambition to play in the top three for England.
This resting of players concerns me. I can understand bowlers needing to rest weary limbs for a day or two after sending down dozens of overs, but surely batsmen should be playing as much cricket as they can.
Trent Boult, the Kiwi quickie, played in the Indian Super League, flew home to New Zealand, then 10,000 miles to join his team at Edgbaston, where he took some valuable England wickets. Chris Woakes, meanwhile, was resting at home a few miles up the road in Birmingham and made unavailable for the Test Match.
Selection and the resting-and-rotating policy are one thing – and those can be blamed on the administrators. But the techniques of batting and fielding are down to the players themselves. Fielding can be affected by morale as much as anything.
Sir Geoffrey Boycott has been preaching the same self-righteous sermon about batting for so long that people are bored with hearing it. But it is worth repeating – and I share his hope that coaches these days, at county and international level, can instil it into young batsmen.
The sermon goes:- “Stay sideways on. Move your feet right forward or back. Bat and pad together. Leave wide balls alone. Get used to the pitch and the bowlers before you go for big shots. When the ball swings, see it early, watch it and play it late.” Then he adds: “Stay in and don’t give your wicket away. Take your time, as it is a five-day match.”
It seems so simple and obvious, but I wonder if players are still made to learn the mantra. Boycott says that players with the batting techniques of Rory Burns and Dom Sibley would have been thrown out of the nets at Yorkshire in his day. He is right that county cricket, struggling with the different demands of T20, 50-over cricket, county matches and now “The Hundred,” are not producing batsmen of traditional Test standard, which usually means an average of over 40.
Personally, I would persevere with Burns, who has made some good scores, shows determination, and seems to know what he is doing, even if it is unorthodox. Sibley would be a liability in Australia, where his weaknesses in defence would be spotted quickly by bowlers like Cummins and Hazelwood.
I would also stick with Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope and I would give Dawid Malan another chance at Test cricket. His figures in T20 cricket are among the best in the world, and he achieves them by playing himself in before unleashing his shots. He is 33, but in this series New Zealand blooded debutants Devon Conway and Will Young at 29 and 28 and they did pretty well. England may be too obsessed with youth and need another level head alongside Root in the top five.
My best England team would be:- Burns, Crawley, Malan, Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Woakes, Archer (when fit again) Lawrence (the spin bowler, unless we can unearth a better one), and one fast bowler from Broad, Anderson, Wood, Robinson or Stone (depending on form at the time and the state of the pitch).
Cressida – another cover-up
Dame Cressida Dick leads a charmed life. She reached the top job of Metropolitan Police Commissioner despite being the officer responsible for ordering the killing of an innocent Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, on the London tube in a botched anti-terroist attack after the London bombings in 2005.
She also suffered no punishment for her close involvement in Operation Midland, the police witch-hunt that caused the appalling harassment of senior political, legal and military figures – all on the word of a proven fantasist. Dick was the senior officer of the policeman who announced that the fantasist’s claims were “credible and true.”
Now a report ordered by Theresa May in 2013 has claimed that “institutional corruption” was responsible for covering up police incompetence or worse in the failed investigations into the murder of a private detective in 1987. It specifically mentions Dick as being responsible for failing to provide important data to the inquiry.
The police admitted in 2011 that corrupt officers had covered up earlier botched investigations, but no action was taken against those responsible. Daniel Morgan, aged 37, was found murdered with an axe in his head in a taxi south London in 1987. He was a private detective whose partners in the company, Southern Investigations, worked for the News of the World in the Murdoch news empire.
Lady O’Loan, a law professor and formerly the first Police Ombudsman, accused the Met of providing misleading information to the media and the Morgan family about the murder and said they should apologise for failing to admit “the extent of corruption and foot-dragging” in her investigation over many years.
Already the two people with the power to sanction Dick, the Home Secretary and the London Mayor, have expressed their confidence in the Met Commissioner, which means she will probably retire next year on full pension after her five years in the job.
What I would like to know is this: in backing Dick, are the Home Secretary and the London Mayor saying she was right to deny material to the inquiry for years and that the report’s serious claims about police corruption are wrong? We should be told.