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Not all failings of England’s Test team can be blamed on county cricket | Ashes 2021-22

England in Australia: anatomy of a shellacking. The critiques are in. The play-by-play stories have been filed by these closest to this sullen and lifeless Ashes tour. Two issues stand out.

Firstly, the startling mediocrity of a lot of the essential administration. There is no such thing as a query, if solely within the spirt of making the deckchairs look good whereas the prow of the ship slides into the north Atlantic, that heads should roll, even when simply within the title of maintaining appearances.

The second factor is the extent of blame and misdirection round England’s defeat, a high quality that appears in itself deeply instructive. To this point, the roster of excuses provided up by gamers, administration and linked events has included: the umpires, the rain, the warmth, the ball, the pitches, inexperience, dangerous luck, Darren Stevens, harm, tiredness, boozing, pores and skin folds, not sufficient household time, an excessive amount of household time, the necessity to play golf, enjoying an excessive amount of golf, the bowling being too quick, the bowling being too correct, the bowling being too bouncy, one another and, greatest of all, a Tradition Of Excuses.

Plus of course Darren Stevens, and Darren Stevens once more. It’s a quirk of English cricket’s angst-ridden dialog with itself that Stevens’ title was talked about so usually over the primary three Exams that he issued a press release asking folks to cease bringing him into it.

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With good cause too. Right here’s a humorous factor: Australian Test gamers in county cricket have a WhatsApp group the place they speak concerning the difficulties of enjoying right here. It’s known as “Stevosgoingtogetyou”. And he’s. Final summer season Stevens bowled to Marnus Labuschagne twice and as soon as to Travis Head. He received them out all thrice, for 11, 11, and 20.

In actuality Stevens is one of the nice bits of county cricket – supremely skilful, supremely match, famously encouraging to youthful gamers, with 227 wickets at 18 to his title between ages 40 and 45. To carry him up as an embodiment of a failed tradition is nuts. He’s the nice bit, a reservoir of ability and information, and the guarantor of a sure commonplace of localised issue.

However then the concept what occurs within the county sport is all dangerous, or divorced in any significant sense from each different half of English cricket is clearly absurd. This does appear to be the playbook nevertheless.

Witness the latest feedback of the ECB’s eternally slippery chief govt Tom Harrison , who has presided over county cricket for the final seven years, however who appeared startled to find within the wake of Ashes defeat that there’s a lot work to be carried out right here, so many issues that solely he, Tom Harrison, can presumably remedy.

Extra jarring was Joe Root’s remark that “anybody coming into this Test team on the minute is doing it in spite of county cricket, not as a result of of county cricket.” Root’s wider level was extra detailed and well-meaning, though there’ll all the time be one thing slightly odd in listening to the highest-paid particular person in English cricket telling each county stage coach, participant, groundsman administrator, growth officer, paying supporter and junior hopeful that the factor they like is trash and it’s principally their fault England have simply misplaced 10 for 56 in Hobart.

Kent’s Darren Stevens has enjoyed a lot of success against good Australian Test batsmen in England but was not on the recent Ashes tour.
Kent’s Darren Stevens has loved so much of success towards good Australian Test batters in England however was not on the latest Ashes tour. {Photograph}: Max Flego/TGS Picture/Shutterstock

In Root’s defence it’s a well-worn story. Pitches are poor, rewarding solely 40-something bed-blockers. This in flip isn’t preparation for Test cricket the place pitches are good and the bowlers fast (not truly true most of the time). And that is why the England Test team can’t make 300.

Is that this true? The concept county cricket has constantly been an elite testing floor is certainly overplayed. If younger gamers within the Nineteen Eighties actually had been being pounded by a revolving assault of Sylvester Clarke and Clive Rice each week why had been England so dangerous at batting?

Equally the concept the present circuit is peopled solely by aged pie-throwing decadents is exaggerated. In his temporary appearances for Yorkshire within the final three years Root has confronted Michael Neser, Kyle Abbott, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Fidel Edwards, Jake Ball, Jade Dernbach, Sam Curran, Peter Siddle, George Garton, Michael Hogan, Nathan Gilchrist and Miguel Cummins, whereas enjoying alongside South Africa’s present opening bowler, Duanne Olivier. Does this actually sound like the tip of days?

The opposite apparent downside with Root’s assertion is that batters maintain popping out of county cricket, beginning effectively at Test stage, then steadily getting worse. Ollie Pope averaged 47 after seven Exams towards high-quality bowling, then fell by way of the ground as a centrally contracted England participant. Is that by some means county cricket’s fault?

The identical goes for Dom Sibley, who averaged 47 in 9 video games in his first full Test 12 months then fell aside underneath the eyes of England’s elite coaches. Ditto Rory Burns, who has received worse as an England participant, and likewise Zak Crawley, who made a double hundred straight out of county cricket then fell to bits as soon as England received him into the system.

There may be a facet of being labored out right here. It’s common to have an early spike of type. Opposition bowlers discover your weak spot. You plateau out, then work and push on. Why has that not been occurring? Why are England unable to supervise that growth? That is absolutely the position of the elite pathway director, the elite batting coach, the pinnacle coach, the managing director. It undoubtedly isn’t something to do with Darren Stevens.

There are two factors price including. Root’s complaints about not replicating precisely the circumstances of Test cricket upfront are the phrases of a sports activities one who has been cosseted by way of a system from boyhood, who feels it’s an oversight to not be spoon-fed the right prep.

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What number of profitable folks within the historical past of sport are given this? What number of instances had Shiv Thakor, Mohammed Siraj, Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul performed red-ball cricket in England earlier than final 12 months? How onerous and the way desperately have England’s batters been begging the England quick bowlers to assist put together them for Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins? That hole is there to be bridged. That’s the check. It can be carried out.

This isn’t to say county cricket is a wholesome place. Nevertheless it isn’t a separate, blameable entity, some poisonous netherworld presided over by the hobgoblin king Darren Stevens. It’s as an alternative of a chunk with every thing else in English cricket, topic to the identical scarce sources, invisibility, slim demographic and careless administration. Somewhat than blame, what it actually wants is slightly care.

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