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Will England ever become world champions?
by Chetan Narula
Jul 25, 2008
Will England ever become world champions?

Chetan Narula - Special Correspondent

The English invented the game of cricket. Which of the three forms, then, are they currently dominating in world cricket?

The answer is a horrendous none. And this, with an infrastructure that has been in place for more than a hundred years now, a sporting culture that out drives that of any other country and a domestic league structure that boasts of eighteen teams, four competitions - until this season - and millions of pounds invested and generated through various avenues. Make no mistake, the English Cricket Board is arguably the second richest and the second most powerful governing body in world cricket today, after the BCCI.

The problems the two Boards face are different though. While the BCCI suffers more from their nonchalant administration, the ECB has a whole different proposition to deal with. Quiet secure on the administrative aspect, the English selectors suffer from a problem of plenty. There are nearly 500 players (English as well as foreign) who are plying their wares for the different counties in England, made possible by the EU and the Kolpak agreements.

The advert way in which they keep on trying different players - regardless of age or talent - as per their whims and fancies, sometimes has the neutral spectator, or for that matter, even a member of the 'Barmy Army' in splits. The peculiar case of Darren Pattinson is the catalyst for all this heated debate which is ensuing in the wake of a ten wicket loss to South Africa in the ongoing series. Coming to Headingley on the back of a draw, the England team was unchanged for the past six test matches this year and then, the selectors went ahead and did something totally unimaginable. Pattinson was called up as cover for the injured James Anderson, ahead of Chris Tremlett, Sajid Mahmood, Steve Harmison, Mathew Hoggard or Simon Jones.

As luck would have it, Anderson did get fit to play the match but Ryan Sidebottom got a side strain that he could not recover from. And voila, Pattinson, who had just arrived from Australia six months ago, and played just eleven first class matches, got his first test cap.

Now, the first reaction one would normally come across when told about such a selection would be 'Darren who?' And not to disappoint, almost every one across the length and breadth of the small island that is Britain was talking in the same vein. So much so, that at the toss on the first day, Michael Vaughan admitted that he himself didn't have much idea how he would use this particular bowler?

Even the Sky Sports commentators were shocked to the core. This is what Ian Botham said to Michael Holding on air, "This is the first instance when I have heard about a new player, and that the very first time I lay my eyes on him, he is in an England Test shirt."

Such shock and awe, Darren Pattinson, an English-born Australian roof-tiller who made his debut for Victoria aged 28, must have done something terribly wrong then. Well not much, as his average of about 20.86 for 29 wickets this season for Nottinghamshire earmarked him in the eyes of the selectors and then, in the test itself, he bowled 30 overs out off the 177 thrown down by England in totality, taking two for ninety odd. Yes, he was under bowled as any debutant would be, but the post match comments make for an interesting read. Vaughan goes on to state how his selection in the playing eleven meant that the team balance had been disturbed, how the team tactics were in a state of flux and how the selectors had made a completely wrong choice.

The coach, Peter Moores, however begs to differ. According to him, the captain had as much a part to play in the dubious selection as he wanted a specialist swing bowler for Headingley. If that is the case, then it raises some serious question about the selection policies of the ECB for it had been just three months and two days that Pattinson started bowling in England.

For one, if they did need a swing bowler, why not go in for Mathew Hoggard, who has established himself to be a good Test bowler, and the fact that he is from Yorkshire should have merited his selection even more. On the flipside though, he is now woefully out of touch, but even in that case, what about Simon Jones? The lanky bowler is now fighting fit and can swing the ball both ways as well as reverse it. What time are they waiting for, to get him back in the side?

Vaughan is clearly upset that bringing in two players disturbed the team's balance. Which is ironical, because one of the two players included, Andrew Flintoff, was actually brought in just to provide the necessary balance to the side. That being said, shouldn't he understand that injuries are a part and parcel of the game, thus new players will always be there and that he as a captain needs to sort this matter out? Or the fact that, if he had gone in with either Jones or Hoggard, then his team wouldn't have been so disturbed since the two were part of it all, at some point.

The whole mess reeks of confusion amongst the men who matter in English cricket. And if for one second, one thinks that this is a one off case, then, one is simply wrong. Headingley has a history of inducing the English team management into mistakes. As many as seven forgettable newcomers have gotten their one-off matches at this venue, dating back to 1991, from Steve Watkin to Neil Mallander, Martin Bicknell, Mike Smith, Kabir Ali, Martin Saggers and Ryan Sidebottom.

And it is not just the swing bowling department, is it? Wicket keeping in England is fast becoming a bane, as four stumpers in as many years have found out to their peril. Geraint Jones, Chris Read, Matt Prior and now Tim Ambrose. Agreed that England have struggled to find Alec Stewart's replacement, but then which of these four have gotten a long enough stint. Probably Jones, but then isn’t he the most talented of them all? Now the talk of Ambrose being replaced by the in-form Prior must be going to the former's head. Talk about the team being disturbed.

The batting is the only aspect where the English might be somewhat settled, but that was when they scored 500-plus on a benign pitch at Lord's. A cloudy day at Headingley exposed the shots that their batsmen played and the decision to drop Paul Collingwood must have stung real hard. On hindsight, the ODI captain bats quite well, bowls the odd good spell with great promptness and is a fantastic fielder. With Flintoff in the side, if one were England captain, one would be tempted to play him instead of Pattinson any given day, cloud cover be damned.

Before the end of this debate, there will be a temptation to ask, isn't this prevalent in any other cricket team as well? Well yes, but the difference is the approach to the game and in England's case, their short sightedness in building a team further worsened with their problem of plenty.

Geoff Miller, chief selector, is busy trying to keep his team composition the same for as many matches as possible. But now posed with this mangled dilemma after the loss in the second test, what will he do? Will he not try to change something to get it all fixed? Can he even answer, what will be the nucleus of the team that will face the Aussies in a year's time and then the world cup in 2011? The problem of plenty will not be able to provide them with a definite answer, as they can try eighteen wicketkeepers in as many matches. Now that is a tempting statistic.

The solution is, inversely, to identify a set pool of players and it has to be made sure that no 30-year-old greenhorn migrants are amongst them. This pool needs experience and youth in good balance. Even Australia called Michael Kasprowicz back from the dead for the 2001 India tour simply because he knew the conditions better than any of their upcoming bowlers at that time. Or for that matter, even though Zaheer Khan and S. Sreesanth are injured, the Indian selectors did go in for a Manpreet Gony who impressed them in the IPL but at the same time, they also brought back Munaf Patel, keeping in mind his experiences at the top level.

The point is simple. These two teams, Australia and India, are the current champions of the three forms in world cricket. There is no shame in learning from champions.

 
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