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Rob Smyth: Shock therapy that might just wake England from slumber

July 8th, 2008 by Rob Smyth in England, South Africa in England and tagged , , , , ,

In the Shane Meadows film A Room For Romeo Brass, the estranged and beleaguered father of Romeo is trying to repair relations with his family when his nemesis Morell enters, whereupon he says with weary resignation, “Oh I need you, don’t I?”

England’s under-pressure top six might feel the same about the arrival of South Africa’s pace triumvirate of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel. But just as the presence of Morell ultimately offered Romeo’s father the chance to get back to normal with his family, so the challenge of facing Steyn, Ntini and Morkel may just what England need: the shock therapy that wakes them from their slumber.

There is sufficient historical precedent to suggest that the considerable challenge of facing such aggressive fast bowling might get the juices and the runs flowing for England’s batsmen. Inertia is unlikely when the ball is flying around everywhere and adrenaline starts coursing through the body. England’s batsmen may not want to pick a fight, but if they are given the equivalent of a punch in the mouth, aggression might be the only natural response.

A similar thing happened in 1994. England came into the South Africa series in a one-paced rut after playing New Zealand. They were trounced at Lord’s but by the end of the series, following the lead set by Graham Thorpe, they were flaying it everywhere. Even Phil DeFreitas and Darren Gough flogged Allan Donald all over the Oval. Graham Gooch and Mike Atherton added almost 50 in four overs.

This top six are certainly in need of some sort of cattle prod, because England have become the bores of world cricket. No decent side (i.e. everyone except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) have failed to score at the benchmark rate of 3.00 runs per over in a calendar year since 2003, but so far in 2008 England are going at a lamentable 2.79 per over – and that exclusively against a fairly anodyne New Zealand attack.

The failure is both collective and individual: none of the batsmen are going at 50 runs per 100 balls this year, with Stuart Broad’s 49.52 the highest. Some feel that the top six are suffering from post-Adelaide trauma, and that this has made them eschew risk completely, but if that is the case they have had an inverse and irrational reaction: it was an inexplicable passivity that prompted defeat in the game.

Pietersen is a particularly beguiling case. His strike-rate has fallen from 69.77 (2005), 65.28 (2006) and 60.95 (2007) to 48.42 this year. He has grown up as a batsman, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. The relationship between calculated risk and reward is well established, and it’s probably no coincidence that England made such light work of chasing 294 against New Zealand at Old Trafford once Michael Vaughan had seized the initiative on the third evening with purposeful batting and increasingly rare urgency between the wickets.

It’s all the more bewildering because naked aggression served England so well in 2005. Remember Andrew Flintoff slapping his way back into form with an almost absurd, beery 62-ball 68 at Edgbaston, or Marcus Trescothick’s many jet-propelled starts, or of course Pietersen’s astonishingly impudent 158 at the Oval. As Tim de Lisle pointed out, England are missing their biffers, but there are still richly talented strokemakers in Vaughan, Pietersen and Ian Bell. Yet it seems that everybody has decided to play the anchor role. England really do have too many Cooks.

Rob Smyth is a freelance journalist. Rob is part of a group running 10 miles (which is 9.9 more than he’s ever run before) for the Laurie Engel Fund in London on August 31. To sponsor him, click here; to read why he’s doing it, click here; or to join in the run, email Rob.

Posted in England, South Africa in England | 5 Comments »

An Essex boy in a Middlesex sandwich

July 8th, 2008 by Daniel Brigham in County cricket and tagged , ,

There can’t be too many offices where county-cricket allegiances and rivalries take on football-like proportions, but, by definition, at TWC towers we’re lucky/nerdy enough to an office full of cricket-lovers – and not enough offices can claim that.

I’m an Essex fan, the only one in the office. I’ve followed them since Primary School, when none of my friends had any idea what I was talking about when I mentioned cricket below international level. Twenty years on, I feel no less an outsider in the office, stuck in an egg and bacon sandwich between two Middlesex fans.

Now, I’m the first to admit my support borders on the smug (when I say borders, it probably smashes through those boundaries and carries out midnight raids on neighbouring communities) but I’d like to think that comes from feeling as if I have to over-justify my support of the county. After all, I was born and raised in Norfolk. But as Norfolk had no chance of winning the Championship, this six-year-old asked his (Yorkshire-supporting) dad for his road map and found that Essex was the nearest county with the closest chance of success. So began my support, but my allegiance with Essex starts and ends with cricket, and therefore my support feels slightly fraudulent.

Not so for the two Middlesex fans, both London-born. That didn’t stop the support of one – let’s call him Nigel the designer, for that is his name and job – only becoming truly apparent when Middlesex started thumping Essex what seems like every week this season. He sits opposite me and has taken to listening to the BBC commentary on the matches whenever they’re playing each other. He doesn’t gloat or boast (like I do); instead his smugness is exhibited by raising his hands and, with the use of his fingers, letting me know how many Essex wickets have fallen. This happens a lot. Which each raising of a new finger I sink lower into my chair, my computer my only shield as I pretend not to care. John the editor – the other unfortunate Middlesex supporter – is far less subtle in his baiting (verbal and text insults), and I think I appreciate that a little more.

However, the one thing we three rivals are united on is our sneering at deputy editor Ed ‘who should I support today’ Craig. He prefers a split-personality approach to rivalry, happily swapping allegiances between Hampshire (he played for their seconds) and Durham (where he was born, although you couldn’t tell by his cords and Terry Thomas accent) throughout the season. It obviously never has anything to do with who is higher in the table …

Let us know of any of your office rivalries. Unless you’re a Middlesex fan, in which case you can keep it to yourself.

Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in County cricket | 24 Comments »

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