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August 2009
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John Stern: England’s pandemic of patheticness

August 11th, 2009 by John Stern in Australia, England, Test cricket, The Ashes

England had lost the Headingley Test before a ball was bowled. Fire alarm, Flintoff, Prior – all contributory factors to Andrew Strauss being pulled from pillar to post like a village team captain worrying whether he can get an XI on the field.

I wasn’t there for the start of play at Headingley but I’m told by colleagues who were that Strauss and Andy Flower did not have the look of men ready, willing and able to take it to the Australians.

Strauss said the preparation was “not ideal”, one of those Goweresque understatements that are becoming part of his public persona. Flower admitted that, with hindsight, because the toss was delayed England ought to have cancelled the three pre-match interviews Strauss is obliged to conduct.

Flower is thoughtful, polite and honest but he is also inexperienced and I get the impression that this series is a massive learning curve for him, as it is for Strauss too. Let’s hope they both emerge emboldened rather than embittered by the experience because at present one gets the impression that the tail is wagging the dog in this England team, and I don’t mean their batting on the third morning.

For Andrew Flintoff’s agent to merrily and publicly undermine the England team management with his “they didn’t want him” implies a fundamental lack of respect for Strauss and Flower. It is hard to know whether Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler was speaking for his client with his diatribe but one can assume that he is not just sounding off for the hell of it.

Now, he might have a point. It might be that the conservatism of England’s on-field tactics also informs their attitudes to matters of fitness. Maybe they’re worried about being sued by Team Flintoff when it turns out, come October, that his knee is so jiggered he’ll never play in the IPL or a T20 match ever again. I’m speculating wildly here but you get the point.

Whether to risk Flintoff was a horribly difficult decision for the selectors and his omission, from the outside at least, looked a fair call. But Chandler’s comments indicate a divide between the team’s biggest star (sorry KP) and the team management. None of this would come as a surprise to Duncan Fletcher, who is not Flintoff’s biggest fan, but it’s not great news just as we come to business end of a nip-and-tuck Ashes series.

Headingley was the worst kind of England performance, one straight from the X-rated 1990s archive. Almost every player underperformed, there was a collective lack of self-belief, each individual’s own insecurity seemingly infecting a team-mate. It was a pandemic of patheticness. England bowled badly on Friday not because they are bad bowlers or because the pitch was suddenly a Cardiff-style road but because they had effectively given up the ghost.

With only 102 to defend, they just hurled the ball blindly, straining harder than normal, eschewing any pretence of disciplined attack. You can see it, you can taste the frustration, but all that ends up happening is the hole being dug gets bigger. At no point in the match was there any attempt to climb out of the hole and that is what was so depressing about it. They couldn’t have come up with a clearer way of exemplifying Justin Langer’s so-called dossier.

So, what about The Oval? We’ll leave selection issues for another day. I don’t feel optimistic but Strauss was right when he said that his side come back well after poor performances. That will be because of the release of pressure. One could also say they get a lot of practice. The other thing to say is that Australia’s bowling attack (whichever one they choose and Headingley has made that hard for them actually) is not indomitable. And there’s Fred.

Couple of stats: in the last nine Ashes Tests at The Oval, the side winning the toss has not lost; and England have won 22 of 34 tosses in Ashes Tests at The Oval.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in Australia, England, Test cricket, The Ashes |

One Response to “John Stern: England’s pandemic of patheticness”

  1.   Paddy Briggs says:


    Most of the blogs are blathering on about selection. Your comment doesn’t and is insightful as a result. As I said in my blog at the end of Headingley Day One:

    it’s all about what goes on in the head. Are Swann and Broad better batsmen than Bell and Bopara? Of course not. Did they bat better at Headingley. Yes they did. Maybe the match was already lost. But they had the cojones to take it to Aussie.

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