The England coach’s bafflement at England’s inconsistency is more baffling than the inconsistency itself. The very makeup of the side is the recipe of variance, and the outcomes should be expected…..

Trevor Bayliss comes across as clueless. He cannot seem to explain the saga of consistent inconsistency.

Why does England flounder so often immediately after some scintillating performances? Why do they throw away the illusions of being a better touring side by despicably resigning to a battery of West Indian pace bowlers, to be bowled out for just 77?

In the post-disaster interview after the Barbados Test, Bayliss was heard saying: “Every time we lose a wicket it’s the beginning of a collapse. And to be honest, I don’t know how to explain it. There’s nothing that stands out in your preparation or the lead up to the game that is any different to when we win.”

It is quite disheartening to see the coach fumbling in this manner, unable to determine what the problem is.

However, the root of inconsistency in the England side is very clearly discernible if one reflects on the composition. And believe me, there really was no pun intended in the preceding sentence. If anything, Joe Root is just the sort of glue that England needs to hold the stuttering batting structure together.

One just cannot play Johnny Bairstow at No 3, Ben Stokes at No 5 and go all the way down to Sam Curran at No 9 and Adil Rashid at No 10, and revel in the fact that the team bats deep. If all-rounders add balance to the side, this sort of clustering of a jack-of-all-trades in the team is tantamount to overbalancing. It is as simple as that. And it is a surprise that Bayliss cannot figure it out, because we said so in these pages months ago.

All-rounders just cannot be used in place of specialist batsmen.

Of course they are good with the bat. Bairstow can look fabulous when on song. Ben Stokes can set grounds around the world on fire.  Jos Buttler can look classy. Sam Curran can pull off the miracle innings time and again.

But there is the catch phrase. ‘Time and again’.

All-rounders differ from specialist batsmen. They can look as good, but they are not as consistent.

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As we learn in the training of any sport, be it the art of batting or the round-house kick in Shotokan Karate: there are no really advanced techniques. It is just that the experts perform the basic techniques with perfection more often than the not-so-experts.

A white belt will do 10 fast mae geris (front kicks) and will sometimes look splendid. But only 2 of the kicks will be technically correct. An orange belt will probably get 5 perfect. A shodan, or a black belt, however, will get all 10 spots on.

Similarly for specialist batsmen playing at the Test level. The Virat Kohli or Steve Smith will play the cover drive and get it right on 9 occasions and maybe mistime one. On the 30th attempt they may snick one.

On the other hand, a Ben Stokes may look as devastating when crashing one through the covers. But he will tend to snick more frequently. Say once every 18th occasion. That is why Kohli will keep averaging in his 50s, while Stokes will do so in his 30s … and Bayliss will keep wondering where he is going wrong. (Please note that these are illustrative figures to outline the concept)

That is what differentiates a specialist batsman with someone who performs only half his job with the willow. The error rate is higher in the case of all-rounders.

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When John Wright had approached an Indian batting practice session for the first time, he had been treated to three exquisite drives off the toes by a wiry young batsman. He had supposed that it was Shiv Sunder Das, the opener. However, it had turned out to be Ajit Agarkar, the all-rounder who was soon to be known as Bombay Duck.

Das could probably never play the flicks with the élan and nonchalance of Agarkar. But, despite being one of the inferior batsmen in the Indian cricketing annals, he was a specialist. And in spite of his immense batting talent, Agarkar the allrounder ended with a batting average of less than half that of Das.

Das however, never played an innings as brilliant as the Lord’s hundred of Agarkar. But he was a specialist and had a much lower frequency of failures. Agarkar could drive with extraordinary panache, but would miss equally often.

Of course, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler … all of them are more accomplished than Agarkar in the batting department. But they do not come across as specialists who can bat at the top of the order. At best they are No 6 batsmen.

Let us now look at some cold hard figures.

Among batsmen in the last five years, predictably Steven Smith has the highest percentage of 50-plus innings. 46% of his innings have been worth 50 or more.

Joe Root has a surprisingly high 44% success rate in the last five years (if we consider 50-plus innings to be a measure of success). The problem with him is that he does not convert the 50s to big innings with great consistency. Kohli does. He gets to 50 in 34% of his innings, but among these innings, 62.5% end up as hundreds, several of them big ones.

If we look at the last five years, the top batsmen of the world do reach 50 or more rather regularly. Williamson gets there in 44% of his innings, David Warner 40%, AB de Villiers 37%, Henry Nichols and Azhar Ali 33%, Cheteshwar Pujara 32%, Tom Latham and Monimul Haque 31%.

However, for the all-rounders this figure is in the mid-20s or lower.

Hardik Pandya gets 50-plus in 28% of his outings. That is high for an all-rounder.

As far as England is concerned, Buttler and Bairstow get there on 26% of their innings, Stokes 25%, Curran 21%, Moeen Ali 19%. Yes, it is the lack of expectation from Curran that makes us remember those brilliant rearguards while excluding the failures from our memories. It is called a base-rate fallacy. Quite common in the fan’s reading of the game.

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Actually, the failure that he was, Dawid Malan was more consistent than everyone in this platoon of all-rounders. He got to 50 on 27% of his outings. After all, he was a specialist batsman.

And there you go. The secret behind the inconsistency.

If Bairstow is the best one can get as a No 3 batsman, it is the recipe of inconsistency. Bayliss has no reason to be foxed. The answer is right there. England need batsmen. Hardcore batsmen. Not the fourth seamer who is good with the bat or the wicketkeeper who seems good enough to be a specialist batsman but fails frequently. Kumar Sangakkara is a rare phenomenon.

Low probability of batting success of each of these all-rounders, combined together, produce high probability of collapses. It is not really that difficult to get. That is why, the same preparation will get failures as well as successes, and the frequency of failures will be quite high.

And it is not that there are no options. The promising Ollie Pope did not get more than two outings. And if there is really no one in the reserves, Ian Bell is still scoring runs. Can England think in the Cyril Washbrook way?

In any case, I would rather have a Stuart Broad bowling as a specialist and an Ollie Pope at the top of the order rather than a combination of Adil Rashid and Sam Curran trying to stretch every possible way to fill up every department of the game.

Else, the results will be half baked (and inconsistent), as they are now.

 

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