England: Frozen Against Spin?

Congratulations to Pakistan on their test and series win over England.  Misbah-ul-Haq’s calm captaincy has helped unite and shape this Pakistan team into a cohesive and, more importantly consistent unit.  It used to be said that the only thing that was consistent about Pakistan was that you were never sure which side would turn up.  Perhaps that is changing, and about time.

The departure of Iajz Butt from the PCB could not have come soon enough.  That he had never arrived there in the first place must be the wish of many more than just myself.  With continued calm captaincy and leadership, provided that the retards are kept from positions of power and influence at the PCB, this Pakistan team could become a very very good side indeed.

Yates likes Mohammad Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal in particular and enjoys watching Umar Gul and Younis Khan too.  Make no mistake, this series win is well deserved and a rocket up the backside of the England batting.  So while Yates raises a mug of Darjeeling to Misbah and his team, the attention must now turn to the England batting.

It has been said for many years that England do not travel well and struggle to perform against quality spin bowling.  You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realist that you aren’t going to remain the number 1 rated test side if you don’t perform well out of your own backyard.  So where does this problem stem from? Is it mental?  Is it technical?  Is it both?  Is it something else?

English batsmen can’t play quality spin may be a generalisation but look at Pragyan Ojha’s statistics for his stint with Surrey. He had a lot of batsmen in knots with his control and turn.  Perhaps this is an underlying and long standing problem?  Shane Warne and Abdul Qadir are two bowlers who have caused mayhem against England in the past so it may come as little surprise that talk of Saeed Ajmal’s new delivery wormed its way into the minds of the Engand batsmen.  That said, there should be plenty of footage of Ajmal in action for analysts and players to watch and learn from.

England’s batsmen weren’t just undercooked in the first test, they were still defrosting.  At least in the first innings of the second test they fared better and the run chase for victory promised to be compelling.  Sadly the version of compelling the English batsmen served up was all to remisicent of the 1990s, as was the language coming from the bedclothes as the commentary told of the fall of wickets.

Michael Vaughan spoke of technical flaws, lack of intent behind footwork and shots.  He talked of pressure leading to muddled thinking and shotmaking.  Now all cricket lovers must surely remember the great Keith Miller‘s thoughts on pressure:

I’ll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not.

Not all of us have Keith Miller’s self belief or outlook on life (and life experiences shape our outlook on life) so to say just that is a bit harsh.  Yates is harsh towards David Morgan and Giles Clarke because Yates believes that what they do requires no more special a gift than those possessed by you, the reader, your friends, family or Yates himself.  And when they foul up, they deserve to be berated fully for their folly.  Yates watches cricket because he like to watch people doing things he can’t and only dreams of doing.  Yates can say when something is village because he himself has a history of villageness.  But I cannot perform at their level, so more understanding and contemplation is called for.

When one considers what good players of spin Andy Flower and Graham Gooch were (and in Flower’s case Yates is willing to bet he’s still got it), it is surprising that their knowledge and experience isn’t showing that much where playing spin is concerned.  OK, the only person likely to belt a spinner out of the ground as Gooch did to Shastri during the Lords test of 1990 is KP but there’s a wealth of knowledge in these two which either isn’t getting through or isn’t being processed properly when on the field.  Remember also that England bested Australia in 2005 when Warne was in the side.

Pleasant memories of 1990 and 2005 do not tell us where the problem lies.  With the exception of Eoin Morgan, the England top order all average over 40.  So they are good players.  Every player has their technical defeciencies which resurface now and then (Gooch lbw to (usually) Terry Alderman comes to mind, 1981 and 1989) but coaches are there to help players cut down on those deficiencies.  So these players should know that plonking your pad down the line of middle stump and playing around the ball and pad is a surefire way of being adjudged lbw.  These players should know that they need to watch the ball (and as Alastair Cook said to me, there is a big difference between watching the ball and watching the ball) and play it on its merits.

This stuff is a given.  So too is KP’s problem with left arm spinners.  As Richie Benaud says, a captain should always do what the opposition will least like.  Out comes KP, on comes the left arm spinner.  Not rocket science level stuff.  A few questions come to mind.

Are the thought processes of the England batsmen clear?
Are the techniques of the England batsmen solid/improving/working even if not smooth?
Is the intent of the batsmen positive?
Where issues have been identified what work is being done to compensate for those deficiencies?

Yates thinks there is a degree of freezing going on here – the batsmen seem to be, for whatever reason, freezing in the mind against spin bowling. The batsmen don’t seem to be as “in the zone” as the Pakistan players.

Whether the issues are technical, mental or both, this is where Andy Flower and Graham Gooch will really start to earn their corn.  If struggling against spin bowling is a historical thing then there is a lot of work to do, and it won’t necessarily be fixed within a few test matches.

Those readers who have seen county cricket over the last few years – what are your thoughts about how well English batsmen generally play spin bowling?