“The trend is hard to break but if England needs to prevent themselves from falling into the short-innings-high-entertainment category, they are going to have to make bigger partnerships and more hundreds”.
“There’s a little edge of frustration – all the batters got to 20 and none got past 50,” England batting coach, Graham Thorpe, admitted after England’s woes against Pakistan in the first innings of the Leeds Test.
Jos Buttler did go on to correct that record with a sublime 80, but the point remains – despite the easy win eventually – that the elephant in the room for England is the familiar failings of their batting order.
At Leeds, seven of their eleven batsmen recorded scores between 20 to 49 with three of them falling between 45 and 49. This inability to kick on after getting good starts is a nemesis for England. Despite boasting of three of the most admired Test batsmen in cricket currently – Joe Root, Johnny Bairstow and Alastair Cook – England have lacked the discipline to put up big partnerships or daddy hundreds.
A marked feature of England’s batting has been their unconverted starts. If the seven batsmen making scores between 20-49 surprised you, it really shouldn’t. This has been a familiar chink in England’s armour in the past few months. To top it all, they have collapsed like a pack of cards several times in recent history.
To put things into perspective, it is imperative that we analyse a few numbers. In the Lord’s Test that England lost last week, they suffered mini-collapses as many as three times across two innings’. They lost 5 wickets in the space of 16 runs in the first innings and followed it up with 4/19 and 4/6 in the second innings.
Against New Zealand last year, they were bowled out in the space of 52 runs, going from 6/0 to 58 all out. A month before that at Adelaide during the Ashes, they lost seven wickets for 64 runs, going from 169/3 to 233 all out. At Lord’s against West Indies a few months before that, they lost five in the space of 62 runs and against South Africa – at Lord’s and Trent Bridge – they lost 10/129 and 9/94. While batting collapses have been the talking point in England’s batting, the half-hearted efforts resulting in good starts and horror dismissals is even more deplorable.
Since the beginning of the Ashes, England have 15 players and 44 innings’ where batsmen have fallen between 20 to 49. This is easily the worst number for any Test nation in this time period. To put things even more into perspective, England have made just 9 hundreds in Tests after the tour of India in 2016/17 while conceding 15 of them to the opposition.
The daddy hundreds are nowhere to be seen. In fact, centuries have entirely deserted England. In a complete transformation from a Test team into an ODI and T20 team, England batsmen seem to have lost the will and tenacity to bat for longer periods. The ample scores between 20-49 are a proof that they have the ability but do not have the temperament.
Someone like Johnny Bairstow has 9 scores between 20 to 49 since the beginning of the Ashes. This is unpardonable when he remains one of the fulcrums of England’s batting line-up. Following closely on his heels is Moeen Ali with 5 such scores and this has promptly led to his ouster from the Test squad.
Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Dawid Malan and Chris Woakes boast of three such scores while Mark Stoneman has 4 of them. The eternal start-stop guy, James Vince has two. Pleasing to the eye and a diligent stroke-maker, Vince’s inability to kick on surprises many but his tendency to go hard at balls on a length outside off-stump makes him vulnerable to the moving ball.
But in a team of James Vince’s, England’s better performances are overshadowed and not surprisingly. The batting fallacies have contributed largely to England’s mediocre show in Tests. They might have won the Leeds Test but had to share the series spoils with Pakistan, a side devoid of superstars.
With their big guns, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, retired, Pakistan’s line-up is young and inexperienced. The edge that their bowlers had on England’s shoddy batting line-up turned the Lord’s Test Pakistan’s way. They could have put up a stiffer resistance at Leeds had their batsmen coped well against England’s own bowlers. It is to be noted that England made 363 in their only innings in the Test but that in itself came from a series of 30s and 40s from their batsmen aside from a good looking 80 from Buttler. That Dom Bess, a bowler who appears to be more than well groomed as a batsman, was the next top scorer shows how poorly the remaining guys have fared.
The trend is hard to break but if England needs to prevent themselves from falling into the short-innings-high-entertainment category, they are going to have to make bigger partnerships and more hundreds. Their next opponent is India, who nearly pulled off an improbable series win in South Africa. With better-equipped bowlers and more sound batsmen led by the classy Virat Kohli, India could pose a stiff challenge if England continue to rely on their bowling alone to win them games.