Batten down the hatches class because you’re in for a gale force of lessons learned this week. Forget the snow day, which saw your teacher ‘stranded’ in ‘The George & Dragon,’ as sadly there’s no excuses for gallivanting this week. Apart from the hip flask in the top drawer of the desk. But ssh don’t tell anyone about that. Due to its influence the lessons differ slightly today; we’re focusing on wisdom from past players which the current crop of England failures can learn from. As can you.
1) Be More Like… Sir Alastair Cook
Sitting there resplendent in a blue shirt, sunglasses perched on the bridge of his nose, arms folded, Sir Alastair Cook gazes down with horror as England capitulate in Antigua. Transitioning from playing to pundit is never easy, particularly when you realise just how embarrassingly shite your recent team mates are. In the bubble of a dressing room at least there’s the feeling of camaraderie and the potential for a fighting spirit. From his lofty position in the stands though, Alastair has no influence on the match at all. But oh how we miss him!
15 openers have come and gone in the circus which is the England top order. The only act present each evening? Sir Alastair. His was a glorious career. You don’t fight your way to become the fifth highest test run scorer of all time without stubbornness and fortitude. A burning desire to hold onto your wicket, reach statistical milestones with little fanfare and crucially lead from the front. If we took him for granted when he played, every England supporter would trim his nostril hair for a month were they to witness his stoical defence once more.
Instead we’re left with Rory Burns and latest clown to preform, Joe Denly. Openers who reached a combined total at Antigua of 43 runs. Denly was all at sea; the flailing cut in his first innings a typical example of his nervous disposition. Ed Smith will allow him one more test but only because the cupboard is more bare than a larder during World War Two.
Rory Burns and Joe Denly must be more like Cook. Resolute in defence, happy to tick the scoreboard over and with a limited number of scoring shots. Chef was the original iPod fourth generation. We need a return to those solid, reliable days.
2) Be More Like… Jonathan Trott
As Jonathan Trott abruptly left the 2012/13 Ashes series due to stress, Andy Flower bemoaned the loss of his ‘rock.’ For Trotty was the consummate professional; the greatest England number 3 in the past 20 years. A batsman who quite literally dug a trench, proving technically correct and temperamentally sound. If Cook and Strauss fell early (notice the ‘if’ not the ‘when’ we associate England opener’s with nowadays), Trott was the vaccine against the plague of ‘collapsitis.’ Let KP accelerate with glory; the Warwickshire stalwart would be there when he fell. Let’s all cry as one, ‘oh how we miss him!’
For England lack a solid number 3. Jonny Bairstow, for all his superb counter attacking in the first innings against the Windies, simply isn’t tough enough to secure that spot. Coming in at 35-1 in the second, he promptly attempted a grand drive down the ground and was bowled through the gate for 14. The complete opposite of what Jonathan Trott would’ve done. Since January 2018 Jonny averages just 29.87, being bowled in the past nine of his 18 innings. Extremely worrying when you consider his elevated status against the new ball.
Anything remotely straight and Bairstow goes all goggle eyed, plays down the wrong line and limps pathetically back to the pavilion. The guy has reams of talent, his magnificent opening in ODI’s proves that, but the patience and discipline for test match batting has evaporated. Keenly exploited by accurate Roach and Holder bowling.
Without wickie gloves Jonny Bairstow appears stranded; unsure of his role in the team. Either Foakes must surrender international glory or Bairstow needs to take a leaf off Trott’s tree and plant a deep root in the ground.
Otherwise bring back Ian Bell?
3) Be More Like… Michael Vaughan
Ten years ago Michael Vaughan retired from all formats of cricket. Increasing injuries had taken their toll, meaning it was no longer possible for him to perform at his required level. Over the course of a nine year career Vaughan would briefly achieve the status of test player of the year, but it was his astute captaincy which really secured the exploits. Notably THAT series in 2005.
Calm, obdurate, ruthless, with superb man management Michael Vaughan eked every last bit of energy and effort from his team. When the going was tough he lifted their confidence; instilling faith in Harmy and Simon Jones. England felt briefly invincible under his leadership and it paved the way for the glory years of Andrew Strauss. You know the cry, ‘oh how we miss him!’
Appearing more dog eared by the day, Joe Root’s approach to captaincy has been more poodle than bulldog. A preening repetition of the ‘bold’ approach, Root prefers his side, not to go down biting, but looking pretty with flashing drives and fluffy slogs. Although he may win ‘Best Appearance’ at Crufts, test cricket isn’t a dog show. Rather it’s a dog eat dog world.
Compare England’s woeful second innings which lasted 42.1 overs and consisted of Burns, Denly, Bairstow and Moeen dropping dog turds, with the West Indies who batted for 131 overs. Where Root’s poodle received a blow dry and manicure, Bravo’s German shepherd was resolutely digging his way to freedom. With dirty claws the Windies number 4 made the third slowest 50 in test history. But did he care? Not a jot. His tail wagged for pride in his skipper, team mates and nation.
As for Joe Root… if he doesn’t put a leash on this gung ho approach soon it’s back to the pound with him.
4) Be More Like… The West Indies?
Embarrassing right? But as mentioned in the previous lesson the entire Windies have blown England away on this tour. Holder’s men appear a close knit unit; none of the divisions we normally associate with West Indies cricket. Especially the remarkable strength of Alzarri Joseph who, despite his mother passing away during the test, carried on playing. At 22 years of age, Joseph displayed maturity beyond his years, sending down a hostile, accurate spell. Ably supporting Kemar Roach whose 8-82 marked another lethal example of West Indian fast bowling. Those four Windies quicks utilised the uneven bounce, scaring the England batsmen shitless.
If the Windies were a Bugatti Veyron, England bowlers chugged in like a Ford Escort. Only Stuart Broad troubled the speed gun; yet couldn’t quite manage one of his magical spells. As we’ve learnt before in English conditions this is possibly the best attack in world cricket. Away from home, either on hard baked Aussie wickets or bouncy tracks in the Caribbean, they’re as sharp as a blunt penknife attempting to whittle a stick.
England’s batsmen are the villains of this piece. But the bowlers aren’t covering themselves in glory either. It’s a shame Olly Stone flew home injured because it would’ve been an interesting experiment to let him loose. Instead the search for a genuine quick goes on.
5) Be More Like… Steve Smith
Yep if all else fails (as it appears to have), turn a blind eye to Ben Stokes forcing Sam Curran to shove sandpaper down his pants. After all a 12 month ban isn’t really that long is it? And by the time you return the side will have improved slightly but still have a gaping hole where you can slot seamlessly in. Then become a hero by retaining the Ashes in Pom Land.
Here ends this alternative wisdom from past players. Homework is to experiment with different types of sandpaper on the Dukes ball. Results which may be exceptionally useful come this September. Unlike every other bit of homework. Now leave me alone. All alone, except for this bottle of whiskey lodged in my desk. Class dismissed!