Looking at all that which seems to be going wrong for English Cricket these days
Currently placed fifth in Test rankings, the only acceptable way for the team, is up, but the only way they seem to be going is down.
The Lord's at London is perhaps one of the most historic venues in the world of Cricket. And last week, the spectators at Lord's probably saw the worst ever humiliation of English Cricket as Pakistan literally steamrolled into a nine-wicket win, in the first Test match of the Natwest series.
Chasing a first-innings deficit of 179, The Brits put up a display that can be called impressive only because their first innings was so shoddy. Eventually, they were dismissed for 242 after being 236/6, leaving Pakistan just 64 runs to chase, which they did without much hassle. Almost one-and-a-half days of play remained at the end, unused.
Starting Day 4 at 235/6 on a fine note, it was hoped that England would at least come close to Pakistan's first innings score of 363. But they faltered entirely, losing the remaining four wickets for a mere seven more runs. Maybe it was a good thing that Jos Buttler could only add a run to his overnight score of 66. Or that debutant Dom Bess could not turn his maiden Test fifty into a memorable ton. Or that this Pakistan side, dominant in every facet, in every way, ticked off the 64 runs needed to win with little alarm. Maybe this is how the ECB officials finally wake up and realise the truth that has been showing itself prominently for quite some time now - English Cricket is very much in shambles.
The last time England started their home Test summer in defeat was back in 1995 against West Indies. In the 23 years since, they have invested heavily in people, processes and pathways to secure five Ashes series, a historic win in India and a world number one ranking. Yet here they are, currently ranked fifth, losing to a seventh-placed Pakistan in the world rankings. Joe Root, once-supposed Golden Boy of English cricket and quite often compared to Virat Kohli the poster boy of Indian cricket, currently nurses a captaincy record that now reads eight defeats in fifteen matches. Should the tourists pick up another win at Headingley in the second Test, England will drop down to sixth in rankings.
"Keep the faith, keep trusting, keep believing," Root urged supporters after the dismal loss-. Not long after the match ended, Root was already meeting with the selection panel. The squad for the second Test was shortly announced, with Mark Stoneman replaced by Keaton Jennings. Surprisingly, that was the only change in the squad, making it look as if everyone else performed quite well. The latter seems unthinkable after the performance at Lord's.
Were this soccer, this would be a "sack the coach" result. I am immediately reminded of the stern policies the Three Lions' national soccer team has taken on its coaches over the course of time. Swen Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson and Sam Allardyce are a few recent names that come to my mind immediately. These people were, by no means bad coaches, but somehow they failed to get a result even after fielding teams that had the likes of Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and so on, and they had to leave. Same is not the situation in cricket, however.
Trevor Bayliss has done a lot of good with the ODI side, but just 15 wins in his 44 Tests and, now, a 20th defeat, is a poor return for the resources the ECB have at their disposal, as far as Test matches are concerned. England were poor from the very outset; senior players looking bereft of confidence or belief in the system. Their only moments of control came through the batting of a player returning from the IPL without any red-ball preparation and from a new kid drafted in for his off-spin.
The duo contributed nearly 50% of the runs scored by the team in the second innings, which makes matters worse. The players are not improving but, given they're the best available - that certainly is the argument from those in charge - it's the man in charge who has got to kick the can, but Bayliss is not really doing so.
The "root" (excuse the pun) of the problem, goes beyond Bayliss. It was with the bat where this game was lost. Root, Bayliss, even Jonny Bairstow is to be blamed for the selection of shots and the general attitude shown on the pitch. The application out in the middle was lacking - a collapse of five for 16 in the first innings was almost outdone by the loss of four for 19 at the start of the second innings and four for six to bring it to an end. Despite only having four players who toured the English shores in 2016, Pakistan's batsmen, one after another, opened up a gulf between the two sides that simply should not exist.
The bowling department is to be blamed as well. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were put to shame by the Pakistan seamers, especially Mohammad Abbas, who finished as MOTM after returning with figures of 23/4 and 41/4 in either inning. Abbas, who has a nominal number of international caps, seemed to never have a doubt in bowling full-lengths, while Jimmy and Broad kept on testing their luck by bowling short, without much success. "They have 900 Test wickets between them and should know how to bowl on these wickets," grumbled a frustrated Bayliss in the press-conference at the end of the game.
The unexpected retirement of players like Jonathan Trott a couple of years ago, and Gary Ballance a couple of weeks ago, is not good news either. Both players cited "personal reasons" with little insight as to what those reasons might actually be, with Trott later coming out to mention a grave stress-related illness. At this point, it is even a bit fair to guess that the reasons for retirement could have something to with playing for the national team. WIth the world-cup looming near, England will definitely have to set its priorities straight, if they want to do well on the big stage.
The sight of Joe Root on his knees at short cover as this last game against Pakistan slipped away, was humbling. There was nothing about him in his position that suggested he had an edge over his opponents, and it was as clear as daylight. He may as well have been on his knees praying. To be the captain of the country that founded the sport, and to be left for dead in this manner, definitely speaks of things to come. Without a few imminent changes, the England cricket team will find themselves more lost than ever before.