In 2011, England became the No.1 Test team in the world after winning six consecutive series. Seven years later, they are staring down the barrel of seventh place in the rankings if they lose to Pakistan in the second Test starting at Headingley on Friday.
This should never have been allowed to happen in a country with a proud cricketing history. What was the point of all the great work done by the likes of Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower in the first 15 years of the 21st century if the ECB are prepared to stand by and watch England slide down the rankings?
The signs of decline have been clear for a while. Since the 2013/14 Ashes, when England were obliterated 5-0 by Mitchell Johnson and company and Flower was sacked, the Three Lions have won just one Test series (in South Africa in 2015/16) away from home. Perhaps even more worryingly, they have lost 14 and won just four away Tests during that time.
It has been a different story at home for England, as they have won five, drawn two and lost one of the eight series since Flower’s departure. It is these results, along with the one-day international (ODI) team’s outstanding performances, that have enabled Trevor Bayliss to retain his coaching role across all formats, but it is time for that to change.
England batted appallingly during their nine-wicket defeat by Pakistan in the First Test at Lord’s. They were bowled out for 184 in the first innings after losing their last six wickets for just 45 runs, and then suffered two collapses in the second innings – 4-19 and 4-6 – as they struggled to 242 thanks to a lower order revival from Jos Buttler and Dominic Bess.
When he was interviewed by Sky Sports after the humiliating loss, England head coach Bayliss said: “Especially from a batting point of view, it was nowhere near good enough for Test level. Obviously, the Pakistanis bowled well, but we’ve got to be better than that.”
“We keep making the same mistakes. When we lose one or two quick (wickets), it usually follows with another two or three and it’s something we’ve got to continue to work on and make better.”
“I think it’s more mental than anything. In the past we’ve seen all these batters score runs – it’s not as if they haven’t done it before.”
We have heard similar rhetoric before from Bayliss after an England loss, and there comes a time when the coach should be blamed for his players repeating the same mistakes.
That time is now. England have tried selecting different players and changing their batting order. They have insisted over and over again in interviews that this team can do better. But it is hard to believe them anymore because nothing has changed. Most of the batsmen still play too many expansive shots and needlessly give away their wickets far too often.
We hear them say that is just the way they play, but that attitude must not be allowed to continue. Ever since Bayliss took over with the aim of transforming England’s white-ball cricket, the Test team have seemingly adopted the same gung-ho approach to batting.
Batsmen such as Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and even Joe Root go out to the middle with the mindset that they must always be scoring runs to put pressure on their opponents and assert their dominance. It is an approach that works wonders in ODI cricket, but it is proving disastrous in Test cricket.
And it all comes from Bayliss. He was given the England coaching job on the strength of a CV that includes two IPL wins, two Sheffield Shields and a Big Bash title in Australia and two international limited-overs finals with Sri Lanka.
The Australian has succeeded spectacularly in ODI cricket and should continue with that role. Since he took over, England have won 41 of their 57 matches and they recently moved up to No.1 in the rankings.
However, their failure in the Test arena has been equally spectacular, and Bayliss must now be sacked from his role in the longer format so that England can bring in a new coach who will foster a new approach. If the ECB wait until his contract expires after the 2019 World Cup, more damage will be done.
It is time to forget about the ECB’s often-repeated recent mantle of wanting to entertain the viewers and focus on the much more important business of actually winning Test matches. England’s next coach should point to the examples of Alastair Cook, Michael Atherton and Jonathan Trott as he encourages the country’s finest batsmen to rediscover the art of occupying the crease.
And, if there any top-order batsmen in the current side who he does not believe are up to the task, he should not be afraid to cast them aside. The time has come for England to pick a couple of grinders like Rory Burns who cling onto their wicket like gold dust. The selectors can no longer afford to worry about style or entertainment value when they select the two batsmen who will join Cook and Root in the team’s top four spots.
Admittedly, there is room for a few wildcards who are allowed to play freely, and there is nothing wrong with selecting an exceptionally talented attacking trio like Bairstow, Stokes and Buttler at five, six and seven.
But for that kind of middle order to be effective, the four batsmen who precede them must play sensibly and lay a solid foundation (preferably of 200 runs or more) for those more expansive strokemakers to build on. It is not a difficult path to follow, but England’s players look hopelessly lost under the clueless guidance of Bayliss, and for that reason he must be sacked.
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