This is the sort of crisis we like, one we can revel in, a sporting calamity but no more than that. Lives have not been ruined. No one has died. The options ahead, though hard to unravel, are not terrifying.
Three months ago, England’s cricket team was thrashed by a good Australian side and as a consequence the managing director and coach was sacked by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Red Adair, Andrew Strauss, who believed his reputation for rock-solid pragmatism by sending the side off to the Caribbean without some of their best players – just to see what happened.
Now England have lost humiliatingly to West Indies, a moderate, spirited side nowhere near as good as Australia. Something must be done to have “the red-ball reset”. Fresh cliches may be required.
So we can all leap on our bandwagons. This means I can rail against the myopic structure of English domestic cricket, which has the prime cricketing months of the summer being devoted to two types of short-form cricket. Why should the next generation of cricketers be bothered with this archaic red-ball game? The money is elsewhere. The advent of the Hundred is symbolic of a sleepwalk to decline; it may be a godsend for women’s cricket but the death knell for the men’s game.
Others may use England’s demise this winter as confirmation of a county structure that’s not fit for purpose. Why not be radical and abolish them all? Use the Hundred model to create some red-ball franchises in the urban centers and bugger Bognor, or Hove, or Taunton or Chelmsford or Worcester.
And what about our battters? They can only score runs on featherbeds and how can they possibly prosper when they never encounter genuine pacemen in county cricket? Except that they have been humiliated this winter by Scott Boland and Kyle Mayers, both of whom display the qualities of the archetypal English seamers, who are just gearing up for action this April?
So let’s not pretend there are any simple solutions. There will be calls for more change. Someone else has to go and the only one left in the firing line is Captain Joe Root – even though we currently have no idea who has the job of sacking him if he does not walk away from his own accord.
More agonizing about Root’s captaincy is faintly preposterous since he has been in charge for longer than any other Englishman in history, 64 Tests, of which 27 have been won and 26 lost. After all those Tests you would have thought the debate about Root was over. He is not the worst captain we have ever had. Not the best. He is a thoroughly decent, well-respected leader, genuinely devoted to the game and, by a terrifying margin, England’s best batter. But that does not mean that he should carry on regardless.
He will probably go now; I probably should. It is not all his fault. His side of him has been about three Test batters short. He has done his time in charge and at the moment it is not working. He could even come back in a few years’ time.
Maybe we should view the captaincy differently. In recent times it has become a presidential term. With a few failed interlopers, the England captaincy has passed from Atherton to Hussain to Vaughan to Strauss to Cook and then to Root in roughly four-year cycles as if it is the holy grail, which dare not be disturbed. It does not have to be like that. There is no harm in letting someone else have a go. In cricket the captain is a deliciously important post but there is still scope for a bit of experimentation.
It is tempting to be mesmerized by the mystique of the great captain, which is mostly Mike Brearley’s fault. In fact his period in charge of him was a consequence of a freakish set of circumstances involving two larger than life characters – Kerry Packer and Ian Botham. Post-Bearley, the armchair experts like to seek a repeat performance in times of crisis. Today that may result in suggesting the elevation of Eoin Morgan, who last played a game of cricket with a red ball in April 2019. That is the solution of diehard adherents to the captaincy mystique. I’m not even sure that Morgan should still be captaining our white-ball sides as his performances of him dip.
Australia sometimes show the way – by accident. Before the Ashes, Tim Paine went out of the blue. In came Pat Cummins, an exceptional man and an exceptional cricketer but with no experience of captaincy. And he’s been very good. Arguably a distinct improvement.
Admittedly England do not possess such an obvious candidate within their current team, leading us to the traditional old English way, which sends us around the counties in pursuit of “leadership” qualities. This takes us to the likes of Rory Burns, James Vince, Tom Abell, Sam Billings, Tom Westley and Will Rhodes. uh huh
So, what of recent members of the England set-up? After a traumatic year or more even Ben Stokes may be uncertain whether the job suits him at the moment. More importantly, alongside Root, he has to be one of the the pillars of the England team in 2022.
Indeed we may have to think in terms only of the next series rather than the next four years. So who could we put in charge for the three Tests against New Zealand. Stuart Broad? Possibly. One other suggestion from an armchair: Jos Buttler. I did tell you there are no simple solutions.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism