Thursday 26 April 2018

Self-inflicted wounds lead to England's downfall

England captain Alastair Cook. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters
England captain Alastair Cook. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters

Derek Pringle

Cricket is not usually played off a handicap, but this Lord's Test, which England lost by 75 runs with a day to spare, has seen them up against just more than Pakistan's cricketers.

Let's begin with the team. The selectors, or at least a majority of them, were clearly at odds with the wishes of the captain and coach.

James Anderson, following a shoulder injury, said he was fit to play here. Captain Alastair Cook and coach Trevor Bayliss were keen for him to do so, yet the selectors decided, perhaps not unreasonably given Anderson had not bowled for a month, that he needed time in the middle before they could commit him to such an important series.

He has now done that, and while the conditions in this Test were not conducive to him taking a hatful of wickets, England will have missed his presence; he will be restored for the next Test at Old Trafford which begins on Friday.

Then there was the case of Ben Stokes, who the selectors are also being cautious over as a bowler following his knee surgery in May. In his last Test Stokes batted at five and could have done so again here as a specialist batsman.

Instead, Gary Ballance was reinstated following a year's hiatus from the team after struggling with left-arm pace bowlers who swing that ball. Pakistan have three left-arm pace bowlers who swing it, which surely makes Ballance's selection more wing and a prayer than stone cold certainty.

Then there was the toss, which Cook lost and which consigned his team to batting last, never the easiest thing to do anywhere when the opposition have gone 280 ahead, let alone on a pitch that was more Lahore than Lord's.

Indeed, Pakistan could not have hoped for a better pitch to suit their players on an overseas tour. Slow, fairly bare, enough purchase for wrist-spinner Yasir Shah, as well as enough bare pitch ends to rough the ball up and enable reverse-swing, all added up to something of a jackpot for the visitors.


Some of England's batsmen have not helped themselves through poor shot selection, but the mind can play strange tricks when it is not focused. Joe Root, arguably England's best all-round batsman, has played two stinkers to bring about his downfall in both innings.

As someone who plays all three formats for England, Root was badly in need of a rest before this series and should have been given the Tests against Sri Lanka off. Instead, he was given one T20 match off, which may explain the brain fade he had when sweep-slogging a catch in the first innings, and the crass hook shot he got out to in the second.

Finally there was Jonny Bairstow's bizarre decision to pull a half-volley off Yasir, the second costly misjudgement he had against the bowler, just as England looked like they might take the match to the wire.

There is a theory held dear by the selectors that Bairstow needs his keeping in order to bat as freely as he does and that giving the gloves to someone else could undermine his batting.

The trouble is, he drops at least one straightforward chance a match, which apart from being costly in itself is surely affecting his overall confidence. Twice in this match he has played terrible shots when set, something he wasn't doing until the scrutiny on his wicket-keeping intensified.

It could have been avoided if Jos Buttler had been handed the gloves at the start of the Sri Lanka series. That cannot happen now as Buttler has broken his thumb, but that, as well as the other issues here could continue to niggle away unless they are addressed before the next Test.

As a minimum Anderson and Stokes should be restored, with Adil Rashid included in the squad, due to be announced today, just in case the pitch is as Pakistan-friendly as this one was. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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